The London reviews of Spymasters

UScoverThumbNail2New Spymasters, my new book, went on sale in 2015 the USA with St Martin’s Press in the USA and Viking Penguin in the UK. It’s had some good reviews. Here are some of the comments and links to the full text:

“For almost 50 years, British and American intelligence officers went toe-to-toe with their counterparts at the Lubyanka, suppressing the threat from communist Russia by recruiting agents inside the Soviet system. Those days are long gone. As Stephen Grey explains in his exceptional new book about spying, the unique political circumstances of the post-9/11 world, combined with rapid developments in weapons and telecommunications technology, have permanently shifted the espionage paradigm…. a blueprint for productive, sophisticated espionage in the age of Islamist terror”

(Charles Cumming; Full review: Daily Telegraph)

“Convincing … a lucid, well-written analysis” (Malcolm Rifkind; Full review: The Spectator)

Grey is a Reuters reporter who has previously written books about the UK-US military campaign in Afghanistan and the CIA’s rendition programme. He has now turned his attention to espionage, and the result — revelatory, deeply informed and subtle — is an antidote to any view of the intelligence agencies as being all-knowing or, conversely, all over the place. Their world…is a dark one, but one in which agents can sometimes discern flashes of colour that offer clues, leads and, sometimes, a licence to kill….Grey’s book reveals above all the relentless uncertainty of spy work, beset with human error and technological over-optimism.

(John Lloyd: Full review: The Financial Times)

“Valuable and thought-provoking .. breaks new ground ..” (Richard Norton-Taylor, Full Review: The Guardian)

Many books on intelligence are a mixture of rehashed secondary sources, salted with speculation. Grey’s is not. He draws on an impressive array of interviews with current and serving intelligence officers, as well as official documents, and provides some notable new insights into the most tangled tales of recent years…..a page-turner for those outside the secret world, and also a thought-provoker for those inside it.” (Edward Lucas, Full review: The Times

“An exposé with real intelligence … Stephen Grey, one of the best investigative journalists in the business, explores the industry’s transformation in a detailed and highly readable book.” (Paul Callan, Daily Express)

NewSpymasters was rated the No 1 Bestseller in Non-Fiction in London by the Evening Standard on July 2nd.

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Much of Grey’s book demonstrates that “intelligence” is often blunder, bluff and worse, and that only the “cult of intelligence” prevents these spies from being seen as a waste of taxpayers’ money (Ed Vulliamy, Full review: The Observer)

“Stephen Grey is a good writer with a reputation for doggedness. He goes where a story leads, even if it doesn’t suit his preconceptions.” (Liam Clarke, the Belfast Telegraph.)

UK made use of CIA 'torture' evidence

Right or wrong, Britain did benefit from evidence obtained by from the CIA’s now-notorious programme of High Value Target (HVT) interrogation, the use of methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in boxes, and throwing prisoners against (specially-modified) walls.

That’s what emerged from an investigation I did for BBC Radio’s File on Four and BBC World Service ‘Assignment‘ into the vexed question of alleged UK complicity into the methods used by the United States in combatting terrorism. (Download the PODcast of this program here or Listen to File on Four now 0r World Service version here. )

The former No 2 at Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, Sir Nigel Inkster, was among those on the program. Asked by me if the UK agencies reap the benefits of the most controversial US methods, he said:

“To some degree I would say that the answer to that question is yes they did…Lets not forget that we’re dealing with a situation in which both the UK and the US had significantly under-invested in intelligence and security capacity for the preceding decade, so neither the CIA nor their British counterparts were exactly staffed up to deal with this global insurgency. And the material that came from these detainee interrogations was unquestionably valuable; one has to say for better or worse because as it now becomes evident you know some of the ways that information was obtained are ones that the UK government could never willingly have gone along with.”

What’s interesting is that, like some ex high-ups in the CIA I interviewed for this program, the significance Sir Nigel makes of these HVT interrogations is not their revelation of great plots but rather the way they filled in the details of an Al Qaeda network that on 9/11 was still largely un-canvassed. Not much of a ticking bomb scenario, in other words. That’s not really how it worked at all. Continue reading UK made use of CIA 'torture' evidence

Libya says missing CIA prisoner "committed suicide"

By Stephen Grey

ONE of the most important members of the Al Qaeda captured by the CIA in the months after 9/11 has been found dead in an alleged “suicide” in a jail in Libya, according to the country’s news media.
Ibn Al Sheikh al Libi, a former Al Qaeda camp commander, was controversially sent by the CIA to Egypt as part of the agency’s “extra-ordinary rendition” program and was allegedly subject to extreme torture, returned back into CIA custody, and then transferred onwards to Libya.
Described by former CIA director George Tenet in his 2006 autobiography as “the highest ranking al-Qa’ida member in U.S. custody” just after 9/11, al Libi was captured by the CIA before the agency had established its own secret prison program. And he was one of a handful of the most senior Al Qaeda leaders in US custody that were sent for interrogation at the hands of foreign countries. Continue reading Libya says missing CIA prisoner "committed suicide"

On the trail of torture

UPDATE: Binyam Mohamed returned to the UK on February 23, 2009

(Published in the Sunday Times, Feb 8, 2009)
by Stephen Grey and David Leppard

Prisoner No 1458 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, woke up each day last week in his solitary cell and waited for the inevitable: the arrival of a team of guards to take him down the corridor in shackles to be painfully force fed through a tube.
This was not another attempt to extract a confession, but an attempt to keep Binyam Mohamed alive. The 30-year-old former resident of Notting Hill, west London, was continuing his hunger strike against what he sees as failed promises to set him free. When he last saw his lawyer two weeks ago, his arms, she said, stuck out of his 6ft body “like little thin twigs”.
Although previously accused by US authorities of plotting a terrorist attack on American soil, Mohamed has not been charged with any crime. His former military prosecutor declared a month ago that he presented no threat to either America or Britain.
After losing almost 50lb in weight, and wasting further by the day, he was probably in no state to be told or even to care that two High Court judges in London last Wednesday were appealing for the public release of “powerful evidence” that might help prove his astonishing claims of mistreatment to be true. The issues at stake, said the British judges, were nothing short of the lofty interests of “law, free speech and democratic accountability”.
Involved shocking allegations of extreme mental and physical torture at the behest of America’s CIA, it is a case that has threatened to embarrass the new administration of President Barack Obama, whose inaugural speech included a pledge to halt such activities, as well as to shed an unwelcome spotlight on what exactly the British government knew and kept secret about potential crimes committed by its closest ally. Continue reading On the trail of torture

The agonizing truth about CIA renditions

Published on Salon.com

The fate of prisoners secreted away under the Bush administration is in some ways worse than even Hollywood has portrayed.

By Stephen Grey

Nov. 05, 2007 At 3:44 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2004, a luxury Boeing 737 business jet operated by the Central Intelligence Agency landed at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. Onboard were its flight crew, eight members of a CIA rendition team and a blindfolded prisoner who was shackled by his wrists and feet.

The behavior of the prisoner, a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri, concerned the CIA team leader onboard. According to an agency insider, the leader sent word to Washington that “there was something strange about el-Masri. He didn’t behave like the others they’d captured. He was asking: Is he the right guy?”

Within days it emerged that el-Masri was indeed the wrong man. It was a “100 percent case of mistaken identity,” said another former agency official. Yet, despite this discovery, el-Masri spent 18 weeks in solitary confinement in a CIA “black site,” or secret prison used by the United States in its war on terror. He is still waiting for an apology or an explanation.

The case of el-Masri — whose lawsuit against the CIA has been dismissed by U.S. courts on the grounds of protecting “state secrets” — caused a huge controversy within the CIA at the time of his capture. A five-month standoff between employees at the Counterterrorism Center and others in the clandestine service led then director George Tenet to step in. “On at least this occasion, Tenet made the right choice,” a source told me. “He ordered the release of a man who was clearly not a terrorist.” Continue reading The agonizing truth about CIA renditions

Coming soon – Frontline World: Extraordinary Rendition

COMING SOON – FRONTLINE WORLD –
“EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION” –
BROADCAST DATE PBS NOVEMBER 6th.
PBS PRESS RELEASE:
FRONTLINE/World INVESTIGATES THE CIA’S CONTROVERSIAL”RENDITION AND TORTURE” PROGRAM
“They pushed me down onto the floor of the van. There was blood everywhere, on my hands, my knees,” Egyptian cleric Abu Omar tells FRONTLINE/World reporter Stephen Grey about being snatched off the street by the CIA.

“As we drove along, I started to choke.… It felt like I was dying. Then I disappeared from history.”

“Somebody came, removed the hood, removed the cuffs and left me in the shackles,” Bisher al-Rawi, a longtime British resident, says of his arrival at an infamous secret CIA “black site” in Afghanistan.

“And that was the ‘Dark Prison.’… It was a very, very cold place. … You had some sort of odd voices, not music, playing on speakers. … You had people coming to check you were alive—not OK, but alive. … [For] the duration of the dark prison I had shackles on. I just took it as it came.”

These are among the voices of CIA “ghost prisoners” speaking for the first time on U.S. television as part of FRONTLINE/World’s Extraordinary Rendition, an international investigation by the award-winning journalist Stephen Grey of the United States government’s controversial, extralegal detention and interrogation program, airing Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
Grey, the former head of investigations at The Sunday Times of London and the author of the acclaimed book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program (St. Martin’s, 2006), was one of the first journalists to uncover the secrets of the CIA rendition program.
In recent weeks, President Bush has publicly defended CIA interrogation methods as legal, despite charges from within his own administration that CIA treatment of “ghost prisoners” was “abhorrent.”
Initially, as Grey and others discovered, key terror suspects were transferred by the CIA to countries like Egypt and Jordan, where many believe the United States was “outsourcing torture” to foreign intelligence services. The Bush administration claims it insisted that the countries who accepted the CIA’s rendered prisoners would not use torture.
“You can say we asked them not to do it,” says Tyler Drumheller, the former head of CIA operations in Europe, about these assurances the prisoners would not be tortured.

“But when you turn someone over to another country you can’t say to them, ‘This is how we expect you to treat them.’ … If you know that this is how this country has treated people in the past, you have to be honest that that is going to be a part of it.”

As the rendition program grew, and the White House drew up controversial legal authorization for secret detention and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water boarding, the CIA began maintaining its own “black sites” for “high-value” terror suspects.
One of these black sites, it was revealed this summer, was in Poland. Another was near an air strip in eastern Romania where the CIA began to interrogate prisoners themselves.
“There wasn’t a bed, just a mattress and blanket and a bucket to urinate and defecate in,” says Mohammed Bashmillah, who was tracked down by Grey in Yemen a year after his release by the CIA without charge.

“We were chained by our legs for a period of about a month after our arrival. When they called us for interrogation, they bound us by the hands and legs, and covered our heads.”

In September 2006, after a number of public disclosures and a key Supreme Court decision, President Bush was finally forced to acknowledge the existence of the secret rendition program. He announced the emptying of the CIA’s black sites and the transfer of high-value detainees to Guantanamo Bay, where they would face military tribunals.
But Grey and others have shown that dozens of known detainees, including so-called high-value prisoners, remain unaccounted for.
Then in early 2007 Grey discovered more secret flights—this time in the Horn of Africa on planes chartered by the Kenyan government. Fatma Chande, the wife of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, tells Grey she was picked up by the Kenyans, she believes, on behalf of the Americans.

“The police tried to force me to admit my husband was a member of Al Qaeda. I
told them he was just a businessman. They kept banging on the table. They
threatened to strangle me if I didn’t tell them the truth.”

The CIA says this wasn’t a U.S. operation, but Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer with deep experience on terror cases before and after 9/11, told Grey:

“It’s called plausible deniability. The agency and the bureau are not going to
admit that they were witting of this at all, … but they probably were the power
brokers behind the scenes pushing this forward. … This new era of going onto the
African continent and outsourcing [interrogation], I think, is frankly new.”

Now, as the fate of many rendered men remains uncertain at Guantanamo Bay, and many others remain unaccounted for, President Bush has reportedly signed a new executive order. Its secret contents, many believe, have reauthorized the CIA to once again render terror suspects to black sites where “enhanced” interrogation techniques are applied.
“The program is back on,” Stephen Grey says. “The people in the CIA are pretty reluctant about it, but they’ve got their orders, and until America finds a way of actually bringing people to trial in a courtroom, people in the CIA have got very little alternative to holding them in these black sites secretly or rendering them to allies who will do their bidding.”

Preacher seized by CIA tells of torture in Egypt

AN EGYPTIAN preacher who was seized by the CIA in daylight on a Milan street has revealed the details of 14 months of torture to which he says he was subjected after his “extraordinary rendition” to Egypt.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, described how Egyptian interrogators stripped him, shackled his arms and legs in a crucifixion position and then beat him and gave him electric shocks. He claimed they had twice attempted to rape him.
Now living in Alexandria, Nasr, 44, walks with a limp, is deaf in one ear and bears scars.
Last Friday the trial opened of 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping him on February 17, 2003, in an operation prosecutors say was coordinated by the CIA and Italian intelligence. None of the US defendants, a number of whom were identified by aliases, attended.
Nasr fled Egypt in 1988 after he was accused of being a member of Gama’a Islamiya, an Egyptian militant group that later carried out terrorist attacks. He denied the allegation and was granted political asylum in Italy. When he disappeared he was walking to midday prayers at a radical mosque where he was a part-time preacher.
He became a “ghost prisoner”, his arrest and detention confirmed to nobody. “I was out of history. My lawyer searched prisons all over Egypt and no one could find a trace of me,” he said. Continue reading Preacher seized by CIA tells of torture in Egypt